Religious traditions can learn from one another. For example, Christianity and Judaism can both benefit from exposure to each other’s teachings, rituals, and practices. The same applies to all religious traditions – none is so complete or full that it can’t “learn a thing or two.”
We all likely know people who blend spiritual practices and ideas. A Christian who practices meditation and yoga, A Buddhist who reads the Gospels and celebrates Christmas, and so on. The blending is usually not aimed at creating a new religion or watering down aspects of another, it’s merely the taking of something good in one tradition and bringing into one’s core, “umbrella” tradition. A humorous story illustrates something of this idea – a Buddhist master who had been in the United States for several years told an American Rabbi, “Your people are such spiritually sensitive individuals – every Buddhist meditation group I visit is filled with Jews.”
Now, one could say that I’ve been “around the block” when it comes to religion – having seriously practiced a few traditions over the past 15 years. Although no longer a Christian, Christianity formed me spiritually for over two decades – such learning and transformation stays with a person, and I take the lessons of Christian love, kindness, devotion, ritual, and vision with me wherever I go. And I’ve learned excellent meditation practices from various schools of Eastern thought that provide a foundational aspect to my own practice even now.
A significant part of my religious experience has been my exposure to various nature-based traditions – forms of neo-paganism, religious naturalism, and nature mysticism. The reemergence of ancient earth-based spiritual traditions is a fascinating development that many people unfortunately dismiss too easily, or worse, assume sinister intentions on behalf of practitioners.
My time with these young, emerging traditions has taught me how nature can play a valuable role as a spiritual touchstone, how our lives reflect the rhythms and cycles of the seasons, and how becoming attuned to nature can be essentially grounding – mentally and spiritually.
Attunement to, and respect for, nature is already an existing part of many religious traditions, but sadly, have been neglected or pushed aside. The Judeo-Christian tradition understands nature as a gift and as suffused with God’s presence. Respect for the planet and a balanced environmentalism is a moral obligation for Jews and Christians alike.
The majority of Judaism’s many holidays find their origins in ancient pagan agricultural rites. Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot all coincide with harvest periods in the Middle East. Jewish tradition asks, that when possible, a wedding take place outdoors, in nature. And the Jewish scriptures are overflowing with God communicating his presence through natural means – burning bushes, pillars of cloud, thunder, and the whispering of the wind.
There are a growing number of Jewish groups dedicated to the integration of nature and spirituality – Wilderness Torah, Torah Trek, Kohenet, and Tel Shemesh being just a few. These, and other groups, are holding their services outside, encouraging people to spend time in nature, using natural imagery for prayer and meditation, and adapting ecological concerns into their spiritual vision overall.
I’m doing some integrating of my own, with two particular efforts.
First, as I’ve written before, one of the more powerful aspects of nature-based spirituality to remain with me is a deep appreciation for the “nature-holidays” – the celebration of the seasons on the equinoxes, solstices, and what are called the “cross-quarter days”, the liminal moments in between which occur at the start of February, May, August, and November.
This year I will be experimenting with Seders written especially for the grain harvest in early August and the final harvest at Halloween. I think there is wisdom to be gleaned by reflecting on nature’s abundance, the meaning of “daily bread” and then later in the year to contemplate death, limits, and finality at Halloween as autumn fades and winter approaches.
Second, I’ve been gradually steering my shopping, eating, and home cooking efforts toward an eco-Kosher practice. Reform Judaism encourages its members to discern their own ethical and ecological approach to food, personal care products, home goods, gardening, and our other parts of daily life. For me, eco-Kosher is a mix of tradition (no pork or shellfish, etc.), mixed with ecological concerns (organic when possible, whole grains, all natural), and moving toward vegetarianism as both an ethical and ecological commitment. I’m not being legalistic or overly fussy with this – hospitality trumps eco-Kosher, and I’ll eat pretty much whatever is put in front of me. The point is not the letter of the law, rather the goal is mindfulness and the lasting transformation of personal behavior.
What role does nature play in your own spirituality?